New state requirement tracks bullying incidents

In the past, the state has received incomplete and inaccurate reports on student bullying incidents.

But now, school administrators will need to comply with new requirements for reporting bullying, harassment or intimidation.

new state law requires districts and charter schools to:

  • Provide ongoing professional development to help staff prevent, identify and respond to incidents.
  • Share bullying and harassment information annually with parents and students.
  • Write their own anti-bullying policies.
  • Report bullying incidents to the State Department of Education.

“My goal is to make it easy, make sense and comply with the law,” Matt McCarter, the State Department of Education’s director of student engagement, said of the reporting requirements.

Last year, school leaders were asked to report bullying incidents, but it wasn’t required. According to data collected by Idaho Education News, only 73 bullying incidents were reported to the State Department of Education in 2014-15, a fraction of more than 34,000 student violations reported to the state.

There are far more bullying incidents, McCarter said, but most superintendents didn’t accurately report them because that was not a federal or state requirement.

“We try to back off being a compliance body entity,” McCarter said. “The only reason we would collect this stuff is to comply with the federal report.”

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Anti-Bullying Bill Signing
Gov. Butch Otter signed Idaho’s new anti-bullying bill into law on April 6.

That changed when the 2015 Legislature decided to require districts to accurately report bullying and cyberbullying incidents, as well as other school safety threats.

“I think they make a strong case to ask the question: Are we doing everything we can?” McCarter said. “The reality is most districts are there. How do we make sure?”

The 2015-16 data will be a baseline for further review, McCarter said. Incidents will be tallied and collected by grade and gender, but will not be tied to individual students.

“We’ve been working on the question: How do we get uniformity in a tracking method?” McCarter said. “We’ve deemed that bullying must be aggressive and include an imbalance of power to assert control, repetition and pattern of behavior. It’s harming, damaging and placing a student in reasonable fear.”

To promote school safety and drug-free environments, districts and charters will receive $2,000 each plus another $13 per student from the state.

“I suspect we’ll have more bullying reports than what we expect because we’re making people more aware,” McCarter said. “But how do you know if the problem is getting better or worse if you don’t track it.”

The Garden Valley and Weiser school districts purchased training videos for teachers, janitors and maintenance staff members, so all adults in the building know what signs they should look for, and what actions they should take.

“We’ll keep track and report so we’ll know what we’re dealing with,” said Garden Valley Superintendent Greg Alexander.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader collected and mined the data for this story.

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